Summer Freedom

Summer vacations are fast approaching and I am reminded of what it was like for me as a child….many years ago!

I lived in a town that was small enough that we could walk to where we needed to go. School, playgrounds, neighborhood parks, neighborhood stores, “downtown”, movie theaters, and skating rinks. Sidewalks were everywhere making walking safe.

We only had one TV. It was black and white, it only got a few channels, and the reception was not that great. Programming would end at midnight with the playing of the Star Spangled Banner with the flag waving in the background. It wasn’t much fun spending a lot of time in front of the small box as there was a whole big world of friends just beyond our door.

We didn’t have computers or cell phones, so if we wanted to connect with friends, we had to go outside and knock on their door, or make a phone call with the one phone that hung on the kitchen wall. WE had an extension phone in my parent’s bedroom, so if you needed some privacy you could always use that phone, and close the door. Only one person could be on the phone at one time….so if you needed to make a call, you had to wait your turn if someone else was on the phone. In a household full of teens, this could lead to some heated discussions. When the phone rang, we didn’t know who was on the other end until we picked up and said , “hello.” If our phone was in use, and someone tried to call our home, they would get a “busy” signal, and have to try again at a later time. WE didn’t have call waiting.

So out the door we would go in the morning – off to the park, up and down the blocks on our bikes or roller skates. “Play” dates were not arranged by parents, and our parents didn’t have to come along. But our dog always did. Dogs were free to be with their kids. The neighborhood felt safe and secure as everyone knew everyone else, and we all looked out for one another. “It takes a village” was very true.

WE were allowed freedom to be kids. Freedom to explore without fear. WE would manage our own games at the park, pack our own picnic lunches, and create our own circus in the backyard. Front porches were a favorite gathering spot, and parents could take a quick glance from their porch to see that all was good in the neighborhood. Babies were put in playpens in front of houses to watch the world go by. Older siblings took their babies for walks in carriages all over town (sometimes without their parent knowing which didn’t go over very well).

We were free to be, free to learn from friends and other adults and free to fall down and get back up on our own. After all……if we were never allowed to fall down, how would we learn to get back up?

Wishing you and your child a peaceful, lazy, summer of freedom and hoping you have a village.


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I have three grandchildren off to school this year. I checked in with my daughters to see how things went and was relieved to hear that the kindergarteners and first-grader headed out happy and excited, and came home the same way.  The first-grader shared that his teacher said  their classroom is like a family – where they all  care for one another.  What a beautiful tone to set for learners.

As a retired teacher, I know what kids need to be successful, and it’s so much more than academics.

So send your child off to school with courage.  Send them with joy and send them with positives.   And when they come home feeling discouraged or rejected, build them up.  Teach them that no one can bully them or make them feel less than……unless they allow it.  Teach them to speak up, and speak out – for they are worth it.  Teach them that their voice is just as important as anyone else’s voice.  Teach them that to gain respect, they must be respectful.    Teach them that sometimes things are difficult, but that’s OK.  Set a goal, work hard and never give up.  Teach them that there are always people to turn to when things get tough – find those people.

Communicate with your child’s teachers if you have concerns.  Respect their time but know that good teachers want to know if your child is struggling, and they will work with you to help your child.

Your child needs to know that you will always be there – to listen, share, and support.  So as you send your little ones out to navigate without you, know that you are still their most important teacher and they still need you to fill them up with all that is needed to be independent, self-reliant and confident to navigate their world without you.




IF ever there was a time to delight in some childhood wonder…’s now.



One year when I was teaching first-grade, we were enjoying some great holiday books featuring Santa and the kids were all aglow with discussions of Santa.  One little girl yelled out, “There’s no such thing as Santa. My parents told me.”

ALL the chatter stopped and every six-year-old head turned my way with looks of horror.

“Is that true Mrs. Marsella? ”  They stared, they waited.  My brain spun very quickly looking for a way through this loaded question. They stared, they waited…you could have heard a pin drop.

“Well, everyone is different, some may not believe, but I believe that Santa is in all of us when we are kind and giving and generous. I love to believe in Santa!”

There was an audible happy sigh throughout the classroom. They heard what they wanted…. Santa is real.  And they immediately returned to their happy Santa chatter.

AS for the little one who let the cat out of the bag – I pulled her aside and told her that it was nice to let kids believe if their parents hadn’t told them yet – and she was a kind and precocious first grader who understood and was happy to comply.

AND in many ways I really do believe in Santa, and always will.  It’s the hope, generosity and love of others that live in all of us.

Peace and love to you and yours during this holiday season.




MY three and four-year old Grandkids are in preschool, and have started bringing home worksheets for homework.  Letter tracing and recognition, cutting and pasting seem to be the norm so far. IS this to prepare them for the rigors of KINDERGARTEN? Just to be clear – I’m not bashing their preschool – they seem to love it BUT I am speaking out to inform adults  and support children who just need to be allowed to be children. THEY LEARN BY HAVING PLENTY OF TIME to do learning THEIR way-FOR EVEN As you think they are just “playing around” …there is a LOT of learning going on in those amazing brains! AND KIDS NEED TO MOVE AND TALK AND LAUGH AND MOVE AND TOUCH AND MOVE AND SHOUT AND TALK AND RUN AND JUMP AND SPIN…..sitting passively would not be their first choice of engaging with the world…for most.

AS a retired first-grade teacher with a MS in Reading Education, some of the issues I have with preschool homework are:

  • THERE is no research suggesting that this type of “homework” does anything to help children succeed in school and often frustrates kids who should be moving around and experiencing the real world; and parents who may not understand how children learn best.
  • Research shows that preschoolers learn best through hands-on play.
  •  If parents don’t understand childhood development, they may get VERY VERY frustrated if their little one can’t do what is being asked, and believe there is something wrong with their child-  NEVER EVER EVER a good way to start your child’s formal educational experiences…..
  • SO you may be setting the stage for a child feeling like a failure when they are simply not developmentally ready to do what is being asked-  AGAIN…NEVER EVER a good way to help your child LOVE learning!

SO….if preschools feel they MUST give homework to a three and four-year old, I have some suggestions:


  •  Ask why?? OR just don’t do it.  YES – boycott but NEVER let your child know you don’t support their school or teacher.  THIS is a recipe for letting your child manipulate you later on when things don’t go their way.
  •  If you want to do it with your child, fine – but make it a FUN experience and follow your child’s lead



  • Read a book to your child every day
  • Take your child to a local library and let them pick books that you read to them on a daily basis and get them a library card
  • Take a walk outside in the fresh air and talk about all you see along the way
  • LET your child cook with you
  • Plant a garden with your child
  • PLAY outside, run, swing, ride bikes, jump rope


  • Set up a desk for your little one with pens, crayons, markers and plenty of paper and let them create whatever they like
  • Have child friendly scissors available and let them practice cutting
  • Have  glue handy to use when they cut out paper so they can create
  • Have  chalk and chalkboard handy – or whiteboard and dry erase markers so they can doodle to their heart’s content
  • AS you read,  ask them to predict what they think will happen next
  • BEFORE you read a book, do a “picture walk” and ask your child to tell you what’s happening based on the pictures – this encourages a LOT of great language and helps with comprehension
  • Talk about what happens first, next and last in a story.
  • AS you read, help your child relate the book to their world “YOU have a red bike just like Johnny!” Helping your child make real world connections as they read creates a great habit that fosters comprehension.
  • When they show interest, have them point out letters they know on a page, count the words, find small words they know, find words that look the same ,  count the letters in a word, make it fun and like a BIG game!
  • Rhyme rhyme and rhyme some more – play with language
  • Have GREAT conversations where you listen and respond to the 1,000,0000,00000 questions preschoolers have
  • DO puzzles
  • Read to them daily
  • Let them see you reading, and writing
  • ASK them to tell you a story and write their words for them – have them illustrate
  • WHEN they are ready – have them notice words and letters all around them – as you walk through malls, take drives, etc
  • Take them to the grocery store, museums, restaurants, libraries, nature centers, zoos, etc – and talk about all the things they notice

SO PLEASE parents….if your three and four-year old is bringing home worksheets, don’t sweat it – if it’s fun for you and your child – great but  PLEASE don’t let it take the place of real reading, writing, experiences, play and conversation – THESE are the things that support early childhood literacy and learning.

PLEASE be respectful of your toddler’s teachers.  Speak your mind, but do so with the idea that you both want what is best for your child.  YOU are a team.

HAVE FUN with your preschooler. YOU are setting the stage for life-long learning and want it to be a wondrous joyous journey for both you and your child.



Growing Resilient Children


tantrum-clipart-oracle-salesforce-tantrumAS a teacher of first-grade students, my job was to teach reading, writing, math, and concepts related to science and social studies, and also to help children with their resilience regarding their place in our classroom community.   Primary caregivers are critical in helping children develop resiliency and become confident positive engaged member in different environments.  Here are some tips to help  little ones develop resiliency and cooperation:

Young toddlers learn through play – both when they are playing by themselves, and as they play with their peers.    Free play is great, but be nearby to keep an eye on how your child interacts with others.  It’s normal for toddlers to feel everything is theirs, and to have difficulty sharing.  A caregiver can intervene when needed to gently guide and teach what sharing and cooperation looks like.  Shaping a child’s behavior is ongoing and evolves over time.  Through many positive supportive interactions with  caregivers, a child learns appropriate behavior that carries over to different settings.

Avoid the urge to “fix” all your child’s problems.  Instead, be there to support, listen and encourage your child to examine ways they may be able to solve their problems.   Often, in the process of active listening, your child may be able to come up with some great ways to solve problems.  Not only will this process help your child come up with a solution that is right for them, but it will empower your child, and help them develop a “toolbox” of problem solving skills that will grow and develop with them when you’re not around.

Don’t be afraid to discipline.  Discipline done well is firm, yet positive and consistent. AT times it can be exhausting but will pay off with huge rewards for your child as their world gets larger and larger.  THE best discipline as far as I am concerned is logical consequences as there is no shame, or negative judgement involved.    AND pick your battles carefully – examine what is critical for you as a caregiver.  If EVERYTHING is most important , both you and your child will always be butting heads, and you will be EXHAUSTED!!!!  Think about what will be expected of your child as they leave the nest, and enter other settings – and cooperation and getting along with others is pretty important!

BE a model of cooperation and positivity for your child.  Children learn what they live. AND little ones notice EVERYTHING!

THINK back and try to remember how you felt as a child.  Parents, caregivers and teachers can be pretty overpowering and it doesn’t take much for some children to be overwhelmed with demands of caregivers.  Know your child, and respect their sensitivity levels.  AGAIN – this doesn’t mean no discipline.  Children feel safer when they know a caregiver, parent is in charge.  Structure and loving discipline is appreciated and needed  – especially when a child feels out of control!

When your child has a meltdown – this is because they need to vent and are feeling out of control but they aren’t mature enough or don’t have the skill to cope with their  frustrations.  Provide a safe space to meltdown and be nearby to reassure your child that they are loved and even though they may be out of control – you are not and you are there to help them feel safe. And then work on helping them develop skill to deal with frustration.  IF your simply give your child what they want when they have a tantrum or meltdown, you are reinforcing this behavior and it will keep happening.

Parenting can be exhausting at times and there are many days when it feels easier to just give in to a demanding toddler.  Short term – that’s true – but long term you will only make thing more difficult for you and your child.  Pick your battles wisely!


ELECTIONS 2016-Some advice from six year olds


OH my!  My head is spinning from too many debates, too much coverage of politics in the media -it’s so ugly –  yet I can’t seem to look away.  Probably because I keep thinking some of it is just a joke – bad reality TV.  I keep thinking one of the candidates will call a press conference and say:

“I’m not running for POTUS for real folks!  It’s all in fun. So look….some of you have been great – some not so much – but that’s OK .  I’ve shown you how much everyone loves me – and many many many do…millions and millions – so many in fact that I know I would make it if I went all the way -OK?  But now that you know the truth – how great I am – how great my companies  are – the steaks, the magazine, the water, the wine – well you all know –   I can go on with my real life and leave the rest to Little Marco and Lyin Ted.”

But in the meantime, since some of the candidates seem to struggle with getting along with others, I will share the rules that first-grade students crafted.  They were great at understanding what they needed to be successful in their classroom environment and were always so willing to help others learn how to get along and be a friend.


  1. Treat others as you would like to be treated.
  2. Keep your hands and feet to yourself.
  3. BE a good listener.
  4. Share
  5. Take turns


Teaching Resilience



I sent my children an email last week expressing my sorrow related to the Paris terrorist attacks.  AS a parent I felt a need to reach out to them -even though they are grown, married with children of their own – Once a mother always a mother.

I reminded them to take time to process, grieve, bow their head and pray if that brings them peace.  I asked them to keep their eyes and hearts open for all the beauty that still exists in the world – to watch for all the love that is present – for that is what will beat terror.  Love.  Bonding.  Caring for one another.

As parents of young children, I asked them to shield their little ones from the news of terror.  They are only 4 and 2 years old.  They live carefree lives full of love and and the innocence that childhood should be- protected by those who love them.  No child should be subjected to the terror we have witnessed lately – and for those who have no choice – I pray they are surrounded by adults who will help them process their emotions.

Older children who are exposed via TV and Internet need an adult to reassure them and help them process the events.  Follow the child’s lead in how much they wish to discuss and answer honestly. It’s best that they get the information from a parent or valued caregiver as opposed to another child.  Be there for them but don’t be surprised if they don’t want to have a sit down discussion.  Many children express their needs best in the context of everyday activities – in small subtle ways.  Be on the lookout and take time needed.

This is a reminder to take time to share all the beauty and love in the world and to teach children  resilience.  Teach them to empower themselves with acts of kindness.  Teach them how they can make a positive influence in the world each and every day in a million little ways.     Children are resilient.  Be there to help them learn just how resilient they are,  and in that process,  we may learn something  about ourselves.




Parents –  Hug your child today.  Look for moments to give them some quality, authentic compliments (nothing phony or fluffy here).  Set aside time to give them your undivided attention.  Read them a book, listen to music and dance, bake a yummy Fall treat.  You are your child’s first and most important teacher.  What did you teach them today?

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